The U.S. Blacklists NSO Group, One of the World's Biggest Spyware Companies

NSO Group helps groups protect themselves against cybersecurity threats. Now, the U.S. may view the cybersecurity company as a threat.

Ade Hennis - Author

Nov. 7 2021, Published 4:10 p.m. ET

NSO Group logo
Source: NSO Group Twitter

NSO Group has been the brunt of many accusations throughout the years, whether through helping governments breach innocent people’s private information or breaching social media apps. The company was viewed as a valuable asset by many countries because its spyware solutions are difficult to compete with. With the spyware company staying very secretive for years now, it's been a mystery to some as to who owns NSO Group.

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The Biden administration made a bold statement on Nov. 3. 2021, by blacklisting NSO Group for supplying spyware products for malicious intent. The ban forbids tech companies such as Microsoft and Google from working with the spyware company.

What is NSO Group?

NSO Group is an Israeli company that provides cybersecurity solutions to entities that are victims of cyber attacks or just want to improve their defenses against threats. The group is only supposed to provide solutions to licensed customers, such as governments, that need it for serious matters. The company is expected to follow United Nations guidelines on business and human rights, and not to abuse its power.

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Source: Getty Images

The security company was founded in 2010 by former Unit 8200 members Niv Karmi, Omri Lavie, and Shalev Hulio. Unit 8200 is the intelligence corps unit of the Israel Defense Forces, one of the most valuable assets Israel has when it comes to intelligence defense. The unit mainly focuses on collecting information and decrypting codes and has been around since 1952.

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Unit 8200 contains some of the world's most talented cybersurveillance professionals, who can decrypt and hack some of the toughest security systems. Many members come and go in the unit, with many going on to work for some of the top IT companies or starting their own companies, such as NSO Group.

Hulio, CEO of NSO Group, is one of the few members of the organization to actually speak out about what’s going on in the intelligence industry. Hulio attempted to defend his organization in 2020. WhatsApp was one of the companies that filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, claiming that the company was secretly hacking the app to infect phones with spyware.

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The infamous Pegasus Project

NSO Group has been widely accused of selling one of its top spyware solutions to international governments for malicious intent. Its Pegasus spyware had the ability to compromise phones and collect sensitive information such as passwords, activities, and more.

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The spyware could be used to breach a person’s social media profiles and other types of personal information, and used to invade the privacy of human rights activists and journalists. NSO Group refuted these accusations, saying that its solutions were only used for good purposes, such as fighting terrorism and other crime.

Who owns NSO Group?

Francisco Partners, a global investment company that focuses on the technology sector, bought the company from NSO Group's founders in 2014 for $130 million. Francisco Partners then listed the company for sale in 2019 for $1 billion. With the help of a partnership with European equity company Novalpina Capital, Lavie and Hulio purchased a majority stake in NSO Group, regaining control over the company.


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